Crater Lake National Park was founded on May 22nd, 1902. It's the nation's fifth oldest national park and the only national park in Oregon. Further, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, the second deepest in North America and the ninth deepest in the world.
The park is made up of a caldera that was formed when Mount Mazama, previously a group of overlapping shield and composite volcanoes, erupted some 7,700 years ago. It was the largest eruption within the Cascade Volcanic Arc in at least a million years, one which destroyed Mount Mazama's summit and wiped away approximately one mile of the complex volcanoes' elevation.
I visited Crater Lake three times within the span of a year and each trip was a unique experience.
My first visit to the park was in October of 2017. My friend Matt and I left from Klamath Falls, about 44 miles away, to visit Oregon's only national park.
It was sunny when we left Klamath Falls but snow began to slowly appear as we climbed in elevation. Eventually, the snow became so thick that my friend had to drive slowly and take turns very carefully so as to avoid losing traction on the road leading to the caldera. Along the way, we saw that one unlucky visitor had gotten their car stuck in a bank of snow. Their front right tire was suspended in air outside of the bank.
We paid the ten dollar fee and made our way up to Rim Village, the visitor center that also acts as the main parking lot. At least a third of the ground in the parking lot was covered in a thick layer of ice and I saw many people, my friend included, slipping on the ice and falling onto the ground in an awkward manner.
My friend and I walked around the crater for a while before deciding to stop by the Crater Lake Lodge, which someone in Bend (90 miles northeast) had told me served good food for reasonable prices. We returned to our car and drove over to the lodge. While there were many parking spots open, my friend choose an oddly specific one and pulled into a snow covered parking spot.
We entered the lodge and saw that most meals cost around $40 each. We exited immediately and returned to the car, which we now realized was completely stuck in the snow. My friend tried to reverse out of the spot while I pushed his car but there was no traction whatsoever. We returned to the lodge and asked for a shovel before beginning to dig away at the snow under his wheels. After we had made some progress clearing the snow, a group of men offered to help us push the car.
Finally, after being stuck at this overpriced lodge for at least half an hour, a group of strangers and I pushed my friend Matt's car out of the snow. We laughed as we left the park and noticed that the car that had gotten stuck in a snowbank earlier was nowhere to be seen.
I returned some five months later with Matt and another friend named Tyler. We arrived mid-afternoon and were surprised to find that nobody was working at the entrance to take our payment. We drove up to Rim Village and walked over to the edge of the caldera. This time, there was snow but no ice. Further, there was a low-hanging fog that completely obscured our view of the lake. My friend Tyler was dissapointed, seeing as though it was his first time visiting the national park.
Eventually we returned to the car and prepared to drive away. Matt started his engine and began reversing out of the parking spot. Suddenly, as if at the climax of some nature documentary, the fog began to part in front of our eyes and we decided to re-park and take another look. We walked over to the viewpoint right as the fog began to dissipate and within a few minutes we could see the lake in full.
We asked a stranger to take a picture of us on my polaroid; it turned out better than expected.
I returned after another five months with Matt and a different friend named Cameron. For the first time, there was no snow and the Rim Drive, a road that circles most of the crater, was open. I had been excited to see the park from a different angle and to avoid spending the entire time near Rim Village.
Similar to the last visit, there was nobody present at the entrance booth and we were able to enter for free. We turned onto a road to begin the Rim Drive, none of us quite sure what to expect.
The road initially took us away from the lake and had us driving above a large valley with an expansive view of the surrounding forest. There were moments where the road became very narrow and lacked a railing alongside the edge of the large dropoff, forcing me to trust my friend Cameron's driving skills as I sat nervously in the back seat closest to the edge of the road.
Eventually we pulled over in various lookout points to admire the view. It was incredible to see the park from such a vastly different angle compared to my first two visits.
Later we returned to Rim Village and walked over to a museum that Matt had recently discovered. The museum featured geological, environmental, cultural and historical information about Crater Lake and Mount Mazama. You could also look over the edge to the point where the lake meets the rocky landscape. Shortly after visiting the museum, we left the park and began to drive back towards Klamath Falls. For Matt and I, it was our third time leaving the park in less than a year.
Crater Lake is a fascinating destination with unique geological features. Although it seems to be in the middle of nowhere (Klamath Falls is the closest city with a population of 21,000 residents), it's very much worth the drive and tends to be less crowded than the more accessible national parks.
The terrain surrounding Crater Lake shifts between a thick blanket of snow and a sweeping expanse of greens and browns depending on the time of year. Both seasons are quite impressive and yet vastly different in their temperature, imagery and overall experiences.